Saturday, May 31, 2008


For some reason or other the word "quaint" really grates on me. The usual words accompanying it - rustic and old-fashioned - also bother me. All of them mean basically the same thing to me - frozen in time.

The word has been used here a few times, by myself in a somewhat sarcastic manner at times, and by others. The Buffalo Pundit used it recently to describe the Four Corners and Clarence Hollow. It's a big marketing tool word too.

The Town of Clarence is not static. It is constantly evolving, while at the same time trying to preserve the traces of it's roots. Quaint is Lily Dale - nothing much has changed there for over a hundred years. Clarence doesn't fit that description.

It can be a bit disorientating to cruise down a road not usually taken and see the build-up that has taken place. Going down Thompson Road a few years back I was struck by all the new builds. It produced a feeling of "Where am I? Where did all the farm houses go?" Maybe I just parked some in my memory that weren't there, substituting another country road for this one. Maybe.

Subdivisions where there used to be fields. McMansions sprouting like so many weeds. The place where I grew up looked nothing like this. And my version looks positively urban compared to that of previous generations.

It was all downhill after Grant City went up opposite Transitowne Plaza (at Main and Transit, for the new folks). Next thing you know Eastern Hills Mall was built, and now Transit Road resembles one big strip plaza, with Main Street panting in the wings.

The only area that still resembles my youth somewhat is the northern-most part of town. That too will change once the developers get their shovels in the land that still is considered agricultural at this time. However, since when it's not farmed the land looses it's exemption (per town legislation), more will hit the dirt, so to speak. Can't really blame the developers - that's what they do for a living. Can't really "blame" anyone. Change.

Yes, Clarence used to truly fit the definition of rural. No more. You used to drive down Goodrich from Main for a good 3 miles without seeing much evidence of habitation. City folks coming out to visit for the first time wondered if they'd ever find a town :) Then again, most of what is now considered the second ring suburbs where like that, even Amherst.

Before it was despoiled by gaudy things like cars and electricity, Clarence was quaint. Before becoming the haven of developers, later day Clarence could even be described as quaint, a little bit anyway. Now it's a rapidly changing place that considers the places and people of our youth, things we took for granted, as so much history.

I remember when the Four Corners had a tavern and there were rooms to let along the side, and when Eshelman's was run by an actual Mr. Eshelman, and when Bratt's across Clarence Center Road was run by Thelma and Mr. Bratt. And I'm not even that old! (no eye rolling please)

There's still one oasis amid all the progress. One place where nothing really changes - the Beer Tent at the Labor Day Picnic! Oh yeah - and the clam chowder, barbecued chicken, and the food in general. The Parade...and the bandstand...Labor Day in Clarence Center. Then it's back to life in the present day world.

Like Jan Hartwig said, "That's life; the only thing that's for sure is that things change."

Change - the only thing to do is hang on for the ride.

"Life is a culmination of the past, an awareness of the present, an indication of a future" - Charles Lindbergh

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Hollow - Part Three

I asked a select group of people (my class of '72 classmates and relatives on my mother's side, many of whom graduated in the '40s and '50s) their opinions on the Clarence Hollow posts. My thought was that those who had stayed in Clarence their entire lives would have experienced changes gradually and therefore have a different viewpoint than those who have moved away - even if only a few towns over, where they now spend most of their time.

I also thought that age might come into play. Those of the Parker generation would have seen more changes over time, while those of us in the middle are still hanging on to the images of our youth. The youngest generations more than likely haven't been hit by that "change" thing - yet. If our grandparents could weigh in, I'm sure there would be yet another angle - "Changes? Let me tell you about changes..."

As expected, most people may have thought about it but chose not put their feelings into words. However, Parker alumna ('49) Janice Donner Hartwig did take the time, and here is her viewpoint:

"I'll comment on the recent things in the Bee about Clarence Hollow because I don't agree with them.

Perhaps some of the buildings are run-down but I'm sure in time someone will work to improve them. Maybe the writer didn't happen to be here during the time Main Street was torn up due to the installation of the sewers and things really were a mess. I think the work the N.Y. Dept. of Transportation or whoever did it has turned out beautifully from the East Hill to the West Hill. The brick walkways and the lampposts now give it a quaint look and it's neat and clean.

Perhaps it's not as he remembers it but that's life; the only thing that's for sure is that things change.

If he'd like to hear laments, he should talk to someone from one generation back who remembers when we went to school at Parker up on Academy Hill -

"Far above the busy humming, on a hill so high,
stands our Parker Alma Mater,
reaching toward the sky"

"In those days" the guys would sneak out of school and go to the bottom of the hill to "Ma Hummel's" (Mysterious to me, I don't know if I was ever there) but it always sounded like many things transpired there.

It made many of us sad to see Parker torn down.

Thinking about it, I suppose the writer probably went there for his early years of school but that's not the same as when it was high school with 45 - 75 students per grade."

Agree or disagree with the posts on Clarence Hollow? Truthfully, I don't think that there is a right or wrong answer. It's all in our perceptions, and in our memories.

(The top photo is of Hummels's located at Main & Academy; It was a service station in the early 1900's, but it seems to have gone through various incarnations. Both it and the Parker School photo are from the History of the Town of Clarence)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Hollow - Part Two

To recap, the following opinions (in 2 parts) are those of two Clarence alumni, members of the Massaro Family (and also of Massaro Cleaners, then located in the Hollow). This will be broken up by writer for emphasis and also ease of reading.

On a recent visit home Alec Massaro ('75) was dismayed at the conditions he witnessed and wrote a letter to the Clarence Bee (published May 14 2008). After reading the letter, sister Cathy Massaro Fisher ('72) added some sentiments and memories of her own in an email.

The Massaro viewpoint is more than valid in that they grew up in Clarence, as opposed to moving there at a later date. Their memories are real, rather than an attempt to recreate nostalgia.

From Cathy:

"Alec has such strong, romantic memories of Clarence "in those golden years". I think many of us do. I have told my mother often how I cherish our childhood, and how they truly were "the wonder years", for me anyway. No bicycle helmets, no rapes, parades down Main Street, concerts in the Town Park, and true town pride.

My father fussed endlessly over the bedding plants in front of the store (Massaro Cleaners), and the chores we had as children included shoveling the sidewalks in front of the house and store (BEFORE we opened), keeping the big front glass windows clean and anything that said we were proud of our home, business and town.

We belonged to the larger community and that was important to our parents. They taught us by their actions and instilled in us why it mattered. So I know why Alec is so disturbed, and when I visit his home on Long Island, I see everything my dad ever taught him about being a good neighbor and home owner reflected in his yard.

Now my visits back to Clarence include trips to the cemetery on Ransom Road. This last trip, which revolved around burying my stepfather, happened at my favorite time of year...spring. I love spring because of the lilacs which grow wild across the street from that cemetery...a long row of white and pale purple bushes. I took clippers and made an enormous bunch to take over to my father's grave.

My father would be the saddest of all to see what has happened to Main Street.

That enormous bunch of lilacs looked so beautiful on his headstone."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Hollow - Part One

The following opinions (in 2 parts, today and tomorrow) are those of two Clarence alumni, members of the Massaro Family (and also of Massaro Cleaners, then located in the Hollow). This will be broken up by writer for emphasis and also ease of reading.

On a recent visit home Alec Massaro ('75) was dismayed at the conditions he witnessed and wrote a letter to the Clarence Bee (published May 14, 2008). After reading the letter, sister Cathy Massaro Fisher ('72) added some sentiments and memories of her own in an email.

The Massaro viewpoint is more than valid in that they grew up in Clarence, as opposed to moving there at a later date. Their memories are real, rather than an attempt to recreate nostalgia.

Not everyone gets the Clarence Bee, and not everyone reads all columns. It's also not available online. For those who missed it, here is Alec's letter, rewritten in it's entirety:

"I recently came into Clarence for some family matters and was appalled by the condition of Clarence Hollow.

I grew up in the Hollow during the 60's and 70's when the Hollow was Clarence. The memories of the beautiful homes and the small businesses that dotted Main street with wonderfully kept yards are still fresh in my memory.

For many years I was able to come back, to visit my family and until recently, to see this once beautiful town of my youth.

I knew many of the families who lived in the Hollow. Some were local business people, and many were members of the volunteer fire department, as was my father, all with a fierce pride in their town's appearance. They all took special care in how their homes and businesses looked.

I know from talking with some of them that they are feeling betrayed and that no one cares. As I drove around town I saw homes near Our Lady of Peace Church literally falling apart and homes in the Hollow that are nothing more than unpainted storage garages. There are dirt piles left from the sewer installation put in to "improve" the town.

I understand that time marches on and that things change. Change seems to have moved Clarence out of the Hollow, and the "new" Clarence is further west.

That's fine, but there wouldn't be a "new Clarence" if not for The Hollow and the people who took such pride in it.

I was really shocked to see this once beautiful slice of Americana in such disrepair. Shame on you, town fathers, for how you have treated this wonderful piece of history and how you have failed the people that helped shape your town."

Interestingly enough, the following week in the Bee there were no rebuttal letters. In fact, a lone voice joined the Massaro viewpoint via the Bee Heard line.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Remembering Kevin Miller

Clarence alumnus ('71) Kevin Miller passed away unexpectedly last month. He was a friend to many, both young and old, and he will be missed by all.

MILLER-Kevin D. Suddenly, in Shanty Town, in the early morning rain of April 12, 2008; known as the fixer of a variety of life's many problems, Kevin will be missed by many far and wide. He is survived by his lifelong partner and best friend Tree (Ann Redmond); sons, Nathan D. (Sabrina) and Ryan (the boy); daughter, Major Erin C. Miller; grandson, Jackson; Tala and Stella; sisters, Elizabeth (Wally) and Nancy (Steve) and brother, Brian and several nieces and nephews and many colorful friends. The family will be present to receive friends on Friday from 2-4 and 7-9 PM at the (Harris Hill Chapel) AMIGONE FUNERAL HOME, INC., 8440 Main Street (near Harris Hill Rd.)
Published in the Buffalo News from 4/16/2008 - 4/17/2008.

(Shanty Town was located on the south side of Main near Sheridan; It was built in the 1930's to house the miners that worked at the Spaulding Quarry)

Thanks to Dan for the photo, which shows Kevin as most people remember him.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The German Lutheran School In Wolcottsburg

I constantly get those whiny emails blathering on about having to press one for English and so on. It's ironic because most of their ancestors came to this country not speaking English, and rarely getting the hang of it to the point of thinking in English in their lifetime. The children spoke both languages most likely, and their grandchildren now probably don't even speak the tongue of the old country at all. It's the same with the current crop of immigrants.

Back in the day before mass communication and easy transportation, enclaves tended to stay more isolated, especially out in the country. Churches served as community gathering sites as well as places of worship, both then and now. Many churches, especially in Buffalo, were built to gather the immigrants so that they could hear God's word in their native language and comprehend it. They also received assistance in learning English and navigating in their new country.

St. Paul Lutheran Church in northern Clarence was one such place. Located in what was then primarily known as Wolcottsburg, it was home to a large German congregation which immigrated there from Prussia starting in the 1840's. The services were conducted in German and they had a school building also, which still stands on Wolcott near Goodrich.

This was in the day before Clarence had a unified school system, and every area had to fend for itself pretty much. At the time it had separate doors in front for male and female students, as was standard for those times. From History of the Town of Clarence:
"St. Paul's congregation supported it's own German school. At times there were as many as 100 pupils enrolled. The pastor served as school teacher and for this was paid $1 extra per day...Except for one afternoon English class, all lessons were heard in German.

In 1918, when the United States went to war with Germany, the congregation at Wolcottsburg was asked to close it's school, which it did."
Why do I think "asked" might be the polite way of putting it?

I remember that my grandfather (who attended this school) still had a German hymnal in a bottom desk drawer. I never heard him speak German however. His children never learned it, and my entire German vocabulary consists of "Nein!" and a few other stray words.

This early German population doesn't receive a lot of mention in modern day histories of Clarence; the school building is no longer in use after serving as the parish hall for decades. However it still stands as a reminder of simpler times, of country schools, and of our immigrant past.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Jared Parker, The Namesake of Parker High

Way back in the day, Clarence had a loose system of one room school houses to provide the basics for the children at the primary level. Some of them still survive, such as Eddie Haidon's childhood home on the corner of Keller and Strickler (pictured). Most live on in memory only.

From the book "History of the Town of Clarence" by Oneta Baker (source of school pictures), the history of the schools receives much attention. After all, everyone went to one of them. The historical information following is from this rich source.

After the Civil War, the Union Free School law was passed. This was the movement to have a public school system which was to be supported directly by the taxpayers. The first thing on the "to do" list was to organize a high school. There already was a private one on Main Street, but the farmers weren't the only ones who were frugal.

Dr, Jared Parker enthusiastically embraced the new Clarence school system. He donated books and other things, including a 5" refracting telescope for the observatory. He also gave land for a park, and a later school site. But most of all he pledged to donate $15,000 for an endowment fund, if the taxpayers did the same.

Thus came the first establishment of a school tax, as they did indeed match the amount. This began the 1st school in NY to be comprised entirely of rural districts. The school was renamed the Parker Union School in recognition of Dr. Parker's outstanding contributions to local education.

The Parker school buildings themselves are gone now, but Jared Parker himself is memorialized in Forest Lawn, and in a fantastic book produced by Forest Lawn Cemetery, which notes prominent people and unusual monuments. Parker receives mention in both categories.

The monument IS unusual. Dr. Parker stands on top of a base that shows the faces of his wife and sons protruding through the sides. It's almost as if he's keeping them captive for eternity. When I look at the photo of Laura Parker I can almost imagine the eyes popping open and the face beginning to scream...over-active imagination, I know :) From "Forest Lawn Cemetery - Buffalo History Preserved" (page 126, source of Laura Parker picture):

" Dr. Jared Parker, sculpted in the days before women's rights, stands lordly and autocratic over bas reliefs of his wife and 2 sons. Dr. Parker (1803-1886) was a prominent physician in Clarence and assumes a heroic pose in his marble likeness, with a Napoleonic right hand tucked in his suit coat and a classical robe draped over his Victorian clothes.

Meanwhile, his wife, Laura looks dour and unhappy, and his sons Napoleon (age 38) and Hiram (aged 20) are especially serious. The carefully executed sculptures are by noted Buffalo artist, Elias Beach."

The monument is located in section Q of Forest Lawn in Buffalo NY.